The Glass Universe

The Glass Universe

Dava Sobel

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the women turned to studying images of the stars captured on glass photographic plates, making extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what the stars were made of, divided them into meaningful categories for further research, and even found a way to measure distances across space by starlight .

Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries,
and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of a group of remarkable women whose vital contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.

Reviews of The Glass Universe

  • ‘A peerless intellectual biography. “The Glass Universe” shines and twinkles as brightly as the stars themselves’ The Economist.

    ‘Sobel has done astronomy a valuable service in enabling a fascinating part of its history to become more widely known’ Spectator

    ‘Sobel tells [the story] with brio and sympathy, making excellent use of the rich archival materials’ Guardian

    ‘An engaging science history…Sobel has a knack for crisp narrative and a cracking story’ Financial Times

    ‘A joy to read’ The Wall Street Journal

    ‘Sobel lucidly captures the intricate, interdependent constellation of people it took to unlock mysteries of the stars … The Glass Universe positively glows’ NPR

    ‘A compelling portrait of pioneering women who contributed as much to the progress of female empowerment as they did to the global understanding of both astronomy and photography’ Harper’s Bazaar

    “An elegant historical tale…[from] the master storyteller of astronomy’ The Boston Globe

    ‘Sobel vividly captures how her brilliant and ambitious protagonists charted the skies, and found personal fulfilment in triumphant discovery’ The National Book Review

    ‘It takes a talented writer to interweave professional achievement with personal insight. By the time I finished The Glass Universe, Dava Sobel’s wonderful, meticulous account, it had moved me to tears…Unforgettable’ Nature

    ‘Sensitive, exacting, and lit with the wonder of discovery’ Elizabeth Kolbert,

    ‘This is intellectual history at its finest. Dava Sobel is extraordinarily accomplished at uncovering the hidden stories of science’ Geraldine Brooks

    ‘Sobel soars higher than ever before continuing her streak of luminous science writing with this fascinating, witty, and most elegant history’ Booklist, Starred Review